An Interview with Adventure Photographer Kat Carney

Kat CarneyKat Car­ney is an outdoor/adventure pho­tog­ra­ph­er, she grad­u­at­ed from Adel­phi Uni­ver­si­ty in New York. She worked as a jour­nal­ist and staff pho­tog­ra­ph­er for the Chanute Tri­bune, the local news­pa­per in a tiny town in south­east Kansas. She played vol­ley­ball pro­fes­sion­al­ly in Spain. But it wasn’t until she moved to San Diego in 2012 that her pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness real­ly start­ed to take shape—and she’s nev­er looked back.

Today she lives out of her 2002 Chevy Sub­ur­ban, dri­ving around the west coast to take pho­tos, tell sto­ries, explore the wildest places she can find. She’s shot for British Air­ways, Hyundai, Kel­ty, Ther­marest, Out­door Research, Out­door Women’s Alliance, and The Clymb.

The Clymb: What inspires you? Who has influ­enced your visu­al style?

Kat Car­ney: It’s changed over the years. I used to look at oth­er people’s work all the time, but now I’m more inspired by being out in the field, either by myself or with oth­er peo­ple who enjoy doing the same things I like to do. I find that col­lab­o­ra­tion with my sub­jects lead to images that I find inspiring—they often have unique and inter­est­ing ideas and dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, and they help me break the rules.

Kat Carney

The Clymb: Tell us about the role of social media in your career.

Kat Car­ney: I’m on YouTube, Face­book, Twit­ter, and Insta­gram, but Insta­gram is where I focus my social media ener­gy. I joined Insta­gram in 2011, but I didn’t start using it until 2013. At the time I didn’t know how to put my work out into the world, and Insta­gram became a fun dai­ly way to share what I was work­ing on. It gave me a rea­son to get out and shoot every day. I real­ized that peo­ple were inter­est­ed in what I was doing. I’ve made con­nec­tions, and it’s played a huge role in how I’ve got­ten jobs.

Social media is also a fun and inter­est­ing way to con­nect with oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers. I love see­ing dif­fer­ent and over­lap­ping per­spec­tives on the same place or the same scene. I’ve got­ten involved with the Out­door Women’s Alliance and She Explores that way. Through them I found an online com­mu­ni­ty, which helped me find a local com­mu­ni­ty of rad female friends doing badass things.

The Clymb: Tell me about your truck.

Kat Car­ney: I live in a 2002 Chevy Sub­ur­ban 4x4. My boyfriend and I built it out with a bed, shelves along one side of the inte­ri­or, a fridge, and a lock­ing draw­er for my pho­to gear. When we were choos­ing a rig, we looked at every­thing from Mit­subishi Mon­tero to Land­Cruis­ers, but the deci­sion to buy a Sub­ur­ban came down to a com­bi­na­tion of val­ue and capa­bil­i­ty. Our bud­get was $10,000, and we real­ly want­ed a rig with four-wheel dri­ve.

I have a high-lift jack, a shov­el, an air com­pres­sor, var­i­ous oth­er recov­ery gear in case I get into a bind. I also car­ry a tool kit, an aux­il­iary bat­tery, and solar pan­els on the roof. I can charge my cam­era, lap­top, fridge, and phone off the grid.

The bed is a 4” tri-fold foam mat­tress. We have com­part­ments under­neath each sec­tion. It’s 6’6” long, which was a require­ment for my boyfriend (who’s 6’2”.) It’s slight­ly less wide than a full bed. I always trav­el with my two stuffed hip­pos, Hedge­hog and Rufus. If you’re inter­est­ed in see­ing the Sub­ur­ban, there’s a tour of our rig here.

Kat Carney

The Clymb: What kind of pho­tog­ra­phy gear do you car­ry in the back­coun­try?

Kat Car­ney: I have two cam­era bod­ies: a Canon 5d Mark II and a Canon 6d. I usu­al­ly car­ry the 6d because it’s lighter and small­er. Depend­ing on what I’m plan­ning to shoot, I car­ry one or two lens­es. If I’m shoot­ing land­scapes or the night sky, I’ll bring my 16–35mm lens. If I’m shoot­ing climbers, I take my 24–70mm. If I’m in big moun­tains, I car­ry my 70–200mm—it just shows the scale bet­ter.

I also car­ry a GoPro. I use the wrist mount a lot, espe­cial­ly when I’m canyoneer­ing or climb­ing. They’re fan­tas­tic, because you don’t have to wor­ry about them get­ting wet or banged up. You just put it on video or time-lapse and go. They also work pret­ty well in low light, espe­cial­ly if you sta­bi­lize it against a wall or rock or tree.

The Clymb: What are five things you couldn’t live on the road with­out?

Kat Car­ney: My cam­era, of course—it’s always in my hand or tucked into my back­pack. My friends on the road—the peo­ple I meet along the way are so impor­tant for my men­tal san­i­ty, and they make the expe­ri­ence what it is. A very large water bot­tle, because refill­ing is a pain. Sun­screen, because I’m a very fair-skinned gin­ger. And my wide-brim hat.

Kat Carney

The Clymb: Where are your favorite places to shoot?

Kat Car­ney: I’m real­ly drawn to the south­west: south­ern Utah, north­ern Ari­zona. It’s so hard to pick just one place. I find mag­ic every­where I go.

The Clymb: What’s your dream project?

Kat Car­ney: I’m cur­rent­ly real­ly inter­est­ed in film­mak­ing, because it’s the next step in telling com­plex mov­ing sto­ries. I think I’m mov­ing in that direc­tion, slow­ly but sure­ly. Pho­tog­ra­phy and videog­ra­phy are very dif­fer­ent skill sets, but I find them both fas­ci­nat­ing.

Right now I’m plan­ning to make a film about surf­ing in Baja. I spent a month surf­ing in there last year, and out of the dozens of peo­ple who I saw surf­ing, there were only two women. But there are absolute­ly badass women who are surf­ing, and I have a lot of female friends who are crush­ing it. So I want to get a group of women togeth­er to expe­ri­ence the mag­ic of the Baja waves. The cul­ture is great, the scenery is gorgeous—that sto­ry is just wait­ing to be told.

Kat Carney

The Clymb: There aren’t tons of outdoor/adventure pho­tog­ra­phers who are women. Has that affect­ed your expe­ri­ence?

Kat Car­ney: Frankly, the sports that I shoot are male-dom­i­nat­ed. Ele­vat­ing women in those sports is some­thing I’m real­ly pas­sion­ate about. Show­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in those sports is impor­tant to. I want to tell younger women that they can climb big rocks, explore canyons, pad­dle out to that break. I want to show them that there are peo­ple like them out there doing it. You can be part of this lifestyle, too.

The Clymb: What advice do you have for peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in get­ting into visu­al sto­ry­telling?

Kat Car­ney: Shoot a lot! You don’t have to travel—you can shoot in your own back­yard! You don’t have to spend a lot of mon­ey, or have the right gear, or live the right life. There are beau­ti­ful things hap­pen­ing all around you, every moment of the day. Just start notic­ing those things, and you’ll start devel­op­ing your visu­al eye. There are sto­ries every­where. All you have to do is look.

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Learn more about Kat on her web­site and Insta­gram.